Dolly Shepherd

BBC History Magazine - - Wwi Eye­wit­ness Ac­counts -

When war broke out, the then 27-year- old El­iz­a­beth ‘Dolly’ Shepherd, from Pot­ters Bar in Hert­ford­shire, was a re­cently re­tired pro­fes­sional parachutist.

The Women’s Army Aux­il­iary Corps was formed to al­low women to take over as many aux­il­iary roles as pos­si­ble, thus free­ing up man­power for ser­vice on the front. Pre­war, in­trepid parachutist Dolly Shepherd had been serv­ing with the Women’s Emer­gency Corps, but she soon trans­ferred as a driver/me­chanic to the new WAAC. She had to pass a Royal Au­to­mo­bile Club exam, but when she got to France she faced a fur­ther test when she ar­rived at the Queen Mary Camp at Calais.

We were marched down to the garage and pa­raded in front of the cap­tain. He said: “What can you do?” The works of­fi­cer, a Lieu­tenant Wal­ton, he said: “You, go across to the work­shop. I want you to put a new sleeve valve in a Daim­ler!” “Yes, sir.” Can you imagine it re­ally? There was me, there was the Daim­ler and all the men promptly left off work and all sat round. I un­did it nicely, screw by screw, cleaned it out, did what I had to do, put it back, and it went! Every­one cheered.

But of course they didn’t know that that was the very thing that I had to take for my exam in the RAC – that very en­gine, that very job on the Daim­ler! If they’d cho­sen an­other car, well, I sup­pose I would have coped, but not as well as I did with the Daim­ler, be­cause it’s a very tricky job putting on a new sleeve valve.

Dolly and the other women had to put up with con­sid­er­able re­sent­ment from some of the driver me­chan­ics they were brought in to re­place.

You see it meant that eight men driv­ers had got to go fur­ther up the line – and so of course they didn’t like us a bit at first. Very of­ten we’d find our tyres flat or var­i­ous things done. We’d just grin and bear it. Then one day I was out on the road go­ing to St Omer and I found a gen­eral’s car stopped by the road­side and nat­u­rally I got out to speak to the chauf­feur. I said to him: “Well, what’s the mat­ter?” So he said: “I don’t know, I’ve tried ev­ery­thing! We’ve sent for a break­down lorry!” So I said: “Do you mind if I have a look?” He said: “You can, but you won’t be able to do any­thing, I’m sure of that!”

At that time, we wore long hair and we had invisible hair­pins you know. So I get out one of my hair­pins and start fid­dling about and to this day I don’t know what I did! I sup­pose a bit of sand or some­thing must have been in one of the jets of the car­bu­ret­tor, or some­thing like that. Any­how, I wound it up and it went! That same night there was a cup of milk left out for me. As the men grad­u­ally had to go up the front, they didn’t mind it so much then. We were all in. We were a very, very friendly garage.

“Of course they didn’t like us a bit at first. Very of­ten we’d find our tyres flat or var­i­ous things done. We’d just grin and bear it”

An il­lus­tra­tion of a chauf­feur from the Women’s Army Aux­il­iary Corps start­ing an of­fi­cer’s car

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